The Word that Adds Unnecessary Stress.

By: Allison Graham

There is a simple way to be a more interesting conversationalist, be a more approachable leader and feel less overwhelmed.

Just stop telling people you’re busy.

There is no doubt you are busy. You will always have too much to do with too few resources. The demands on time and talent are being stretched to maximum capacity, especially for those who work in the association industry.  With this small shift, you’ll find a gradual, yet definite, improvement in conversation quality, approachability and control over your unending items on your agenda.

To be clear, this article is not about stopping the busy – you may thrive on being busy; many high-achieving professionals do.   This article is about encouraging you to run an experiment. What happens when you stop continually reinforcing your busy life to anyone who will listen?

I look forward to hearing your results in my session: Embrace Your Inner Resiliency Ninja at the CSAE Summer Summit 2019. when I’ll share fresh concepts to master everyday resilience so that you can lower unnecessary stress.

Here are some reasons why ditching the word busy from your vocabulary can lead to a less stressful life.

Escape boring and be more interesting.

Hallways, coffee shops and cocktail parties are littered with the ho-hum, superficial conversations that inevitably point out the busy lifestyle each person is leading. “Busy” has become the default answer to the default question, “How are you?”

Challenge yourself to share a more interesting response that can be a springboard to a better conversation. It will make it easier to initiate a more meaningful connection.

“Excited, just finished a project I’ve worked on for months.”
“Great, I’ve been taking time to get to know my board better this year.”
“Happy for the change of pace and getting to be here at the CSAE Trillium Summit 2019.” (Hint hint: See how I snuck that in there?)

“Dazed, confused, and living on the edge.”

ANYTHING is better than “Busy.”

When you choose better words, you can create better solutions.

Reinforcing how busy you are can lead to additional feelings of being overwhelmed. Having lots to do is just the way life goes, it doesn’t mean you need to allow it to cause unnecessary stress.

Walking into the office from the parking lot, a friend explained that she was too busy. She wouldn’t get anything done that day because she was hosting a workshop and had several meetings. I asked if running workshops and meeting with people was part of her job responsibility, which it was. So really, what you mean is you’ll get a lot of teaching and meeting with people done today. She stopped in her tracks. It was a small shift in perspective that allowed her to approach her day in a more engaged, less resentful of busy, way.

After having this conversation about word choices with one of my clients and her tendency to tell everyone she was so busy and so stressed, she realized that her team had adopted the attitude that the organization was too busy already. That meant they stopped developing business. Talk about an unintended consequence of telling everyone you’re swamped.

You’ll be more approachable.

Telling others that you’re busy can discourage them from connecting with you.

When speaking to a few hundred mid-managers from a large company, I asked, “Who has NOT gone to their leader with an important question, problem or idea because they believed he or she was too busy to talk about it?” A shocking number of people raised their hand.

The natural follow-up question was, “Who is sending the same message to their team that they are too busy for questions, problem-solving or innovative ideas?”


The challenge is that most leaders want their team to bring important issues to their attention and innovate better ways to do things. Then they unintentionally push them away because they are always in the weeds of being too busy.

I notice it too. I’ve had conversations with colleagues who go on about how busy they are, so I’ll rush the call to let them get back to their tasks rather than focusing on making the connection.

Improve your personal brand.

There are many factors that contribute to your personal brand, which is best defined as the gut reaction people have about you. Having ‘really busy’ as your reputation is not ideal. Telling others that you’re busy will not positively differentiate you from others in the industry, rather, it could backfire. Saying you’re busy can come across as complaining, because “busy” is not generally a positive attribute. It is a phrase that can make us feel important because we have lots to do, when really, it sends the message that our schedule is out of control and boundaries are not being created. That makes it harder for people to entrust you with new opportunities.

While the busy nature of your work, with conflicting priorities and too much to do with too few resources will not change anytime soon, you can mitigate the unintended consequences of saying you’re busy by choosing a more interesting way to communicate with others.

Run the experiment. For the next 30 days, delete the word busy from your vocabulary. Challenge yourself to find a new word and see how that shifts your connection with others.